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November 9, 2006

The Strategic Ramifications of the US Mid-Term Congressional Elections

Analysis. By Gregory R. Copley, President, ISSA. The US mid-term Congressional elections held on November 7, 2006, had, by November 8, begun to send a significant strategic message around the world. It was a signal which, although it may be incorrectly perceived, was one of US withdrawal from its strategic commitments in the current US-led conflicts against terrorist groups, and against insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan. The election gave the opposition Democratic Party control of the House of Representatives and the Senate, and while this does not necessarily impact on the Presidency directly, and may not necessarily mean a short-term change in US strategic policy, it sent a message that the Bush Administration doctrine had been assailed within the US, and would be overturned.

The following brief observations are relevant, although they do not constitute a comprehensive review of the strategic impact of the election:

1. Although a swing against an incumbent US administration is expected in the sixth-year mid-term elections of a two-term presidency, this particular election came at a time of considerable global instability. This election result will be interpreted as an absolute victory by and for the Iranian clerics, and they will redouble their efforts accordingly. For example, the current Iranian military exercise, Great Prophet 2, which follows on from the long Blow of Zolfaghar exercises, has as a principal premise an Iranian military thrust through the Shi'a areas of Iraq to join up with Syria on the Mediterranean, against Israel and the West. Moreover, the Iraqi Government will interpret the results as a weakening of US resolve, and will anticipate that insurgent groups (virtually all of whom, knowingly or unknowingly, are supported by Iran) will become more daring. Israel and the entire Middle Eastern region will interpret the results as a weakening of US resolve in the region.

See Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis, November 7, 2006: Iranian Military Exercises Continue, Parallel DPRK Exercises, and Highlight Access to Shi’ite Areas of Iraq.

2. The European Union states (particularly France) will interpret the results as a return to Clintonite relaxation. This would be an incorrect interpretation, but will stimulate some "positive" views of the US which will be taken by some in the US that the US was wrong to pursue its national interests so vigorously (as it did under the Bush Administration).

3. Turkey, which was wavering (due to Bush Administration pressure) in its intent to make a military (and probably destabilizing) incursion into northern Iraq must now re-evaluate whether such a strike can now take place to hit at the Kurdish rebels there, and to support Turkish irredentist claims to the formerly-Turkish Kurdish areas which control key oil reserves, etc. Moreover, the Turkish General Staff, seeing the US in strategic "retreat", will push to resolve the EU membership question and control over key areas of the Ęgean Sea to its own liking.

4. Pakistan must now re-evaluate whether the US will continue to be the strong supporter of Pres. Pervez Musharraf’s Administration which it has been during the Bush Administration, and Pakistan will almost certainly have to think now of hedging its bets in its dealings with jihadists, Islamists, and the Taliban. Within Afghanistan, the Taliban will be given considerable incentive to move strongly, and this will impact on the US' Coalition allies who are present in the country.

5. There will be strong moves within Congress for the Democrats to consolidate their position in order to prepare for the decisive 2008 elections. This will mean applying maximum pressure in many areas, but from the global strategic perspective this will particularly mean embarrassing or paralyzing the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) and the Defense Secretary in order to discredit Bush Administration policies. The replacement on November 8, 2006, of incumbent Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld by Dr Robert Michael Gates, a former US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) official, will create a new direction in the Pentagon. This may not include immediate removal of funding for Iraq or Afghan operations, but it may well mean that key, high-priced weapons programs will be underfunded, and that many programs will be subject to delay or review. Any resultant cost increases, for example, in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter would impact a dozen or so key US allies abroad, including the UK and Australia, with extremely negative results for the perception of US strategic dependency abroad.

6. Significantly, the nomination of Dr Gates as US Secretary of Defense sends a very strong and clear message to the Iranian clerical leadership. Gates, in the Summer of 2004, along with former Carter Administration National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, co-chaired a task force sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations which argued for opening a dialogue with Iran. This approach came at a time when the Iranian public was turning to the US for encouragement in the overthrow of the clerical autocracy which controls Iran. This approach, coupled with the perception (and possible reality) that the Iranian clerics had substantially influenced the US voting public to withdraw militarily from Iraq, means that the clerics can now move ahead without interference in their plans for strategic expansion. This is of profound importance to the Iranian population, and the populations of Israel and other Middle Eastern states concerned about Iran’s growing commitment to military dominance in the region.

7. The Democratic Party has traditionally rejected funding for Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD), the sole counterweight to possible North Korean and Iranian nuclear threats. The best situation the Administration can now expect is that only modest reductions, or no growth, will occur in the BMD programs which President George W. Bush instigated following the Reagan Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI).